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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 7/5

          Me and Jesus have a lot in common this week.  I guess it’s kind of risky to start a sermon with those words.  We both just visited our hometown though; but having just been back to New England, can I relate to Jesus’ experience of rejection in his hometown of Nazareth in today’s gospel?  Not really I guess.  I didn’t experience any rejection.  My mother still likes me.  No one took offense at me, in fact at this point I’ve been gone long enough that apart from family hardly anyone even knows who I am so I can be pretty invisible back there.  I can do things like go to church wearing shorts (not at my mother’s church where I grew up, I probably wouldn’t do it there; this was up in Maine) but up there I could just go to church and sit in the back and then I snuck out after communion so I didn’t have to talk to anyone.    

What is different when I go back there is that I’m not the pastor.  Even for those who did know me growing up, when I go back it’s really no different than it was when I went home when I was teaching school, living in New Hampshire.  I’m just one of the kids in the neighborhood who grew up and moved away who’s come back to visit, but I’m not their pastor; they’re not suspicious about me being a pastor (I don’t think so anyway), it’s just not who I am to them.

          Maybe though, this is just another way of getting at the old “you can’t be a prophet in your own home town” thing that Jesus brings up in today’s lesson.  There are reasons why pastors don’t serve in the town or the congregation where they grew up even though sometimes there are people who think that would be a great idea.  It might work, but it seems that there would always be those people who couldn’t get past seeing you as the little kid or the annoying teenager that you once were.  If that failure to overcome your past happened to Jesus it certainly could happen to the rest of us.

          The result then might well be that one would not be as effective in ministry because that too happened to Jesus.  The people of Nazareth were suspicious about Jesus because of his background, but the text also says that because of their lack of faith, because of their rejection, Jesus could do no deeds of power there.  He wasn’t as effective there as he was in other places and that might be at least a little troubling, seeming to make things too dependent on us. 

Does it get us into “If only my faith were stronger then this wouldn’t have happened?”  Does it lead to “If only we had prayed harder, if we’d had more faith, so and so would have gotten better?”  In other words, is Jesus’ power contingent on us and our cooperation or can Jesus do whatever he wants? I think the answer to that is yes…to both sides of it. 

But I don’t think the point of this story is to get hung up on such questions, or at least I’m not going to get hung up on them in a sermon.  Rather, this story takes us back to the seed and soil parables of a few weeks ago. 

Part of their message is to say that God’s work will be done; the kingdom of God will be made known; there will be growth; there will be an abundant harvest regardless of what we do.  But another part of the message of those parables is that there is good soil and bad soil and that it does make a difference.  So…people in other places were open and receptive to Jesus’ words and his healing touch, the people of Nazareth, not so receptive.  They had more trouble seeing the transformative nature of what Jesus was doing and as a result Jesus didn’t get as much done there.  There was a connection between what Jesus could do and the receptivity of the people.

Maybe some of it becomes a matter of perspective, of how you look at things…like if healing takes place and it’s just viewed as good work by the doctors and the rest of the medical profession?  Certainly the doctors deserve credit, but some of the same people who are pretty quick to blame God when someone doesn’t get better are not as quick to include God in the praise when healing does happen or in thanks and praise for years and years of good health.  It’s a matter of perspective. 

Or there are those who can marvel at the beauty and wonder of creation but who don’t have room in their worldview to acknowledge the creator; for them it’s all a matter of geology and cosmology and climatology and biology and all kinds of other -ologies but not theology.  It’s kind of like the joke you might have heard about the guy driving around and around and he can’t find a parking space so finally he prays, “Dear God if you give me a parking space I’ll go to church every week from now on.”  Lo and behold he comes around the corner and there’s an open space.  “Never mind,” he says, I found one.”  It’s a matter of perspective; one must have eyes to see.

There is good soil and bad soil, those who are receptive to Jesus, those who are less receptive such that even Jesus himself was more successful in some places than others.  As much as we talk about divine power and as much as we tend to view God as all powerful, as much as we preach and proclaim our dependence on God’s grace as a free gift, a degree of cooperation on our part also seems to be part of the mix.  As it said in one of the books I read while hanging around the airport, there really is no such thing as a free gift, only a free offer.  To make it a gift you have to receive it.

As Jesus commissioned the twelve disciples in the second part of this lesson, they were sent out to extend the offer.  They were sent out to witness to Jesus and the revelation of God made known through him.  To be sure, for those who read these stories, paired as they are, there is a word of caution.  Whether it was those who read this in the first century of if it’s those of us who read it in the 21st century, there is caution that just as Jesus experienced rejection, we will too.  Some will not accept the offer because they don’t have the vision to see God’s transformational activity at work in the world. 

Others won’t accept Jesus’ offer because they hear what he has to say and it’s too threatening to ways of life that they find pretty comfortable.  You sometimes hear, or at least I sometimes hear it said of a particular church, “If Jesus himself was their pastor, they still wouldn’t be happy.”  The truth of it is, I’m not sure any church would be very happy if Jesus was their pastor because what Jesus has to say upsets people. 

In Nazareth his rejection was mostly skepticism because they knew him too well, this carpenter, the son of Mary and Joseph.  But what led to his ultimate rejection by the religious and political authorities was his message that upset the accepted order of things, his message that challenged the authority of the Roman empire as the means to salvation and well being, his challenge to the temple and the system of sacrifices and holiness, his message about a different kingdom in which he himself assumed power, only it was the power made perfect in weakness that Paul wrote to the Corinthians about.  Power made perfect in weakness doesn’t sound very threatening, but for those in power it was threatening and still is.

Because of his message Jesus experienced skepticism and rejection; his disciples experienced skepticism and rejection and it’s no different for us.  Why should it be?  The challenge though, as it was for the disciples, is to have the courage to proclaim Jesus and his message with integrity and to continue to proclaim it even in the face of rejection, even if it upsets people, even if it’s tempting to smooth it out so that it just says what we want it to say.  It starts with having eyes to see the world differently, to see and marvel at the transforming work of God in the world, work that didn’t end with Jesus but which continues in his name.  The challenge is to have the vision regarding Jesus that the people of Nazareth didn’t have. 

That vision makes the world look different because it makes Jesus the main character.  Seeing the world with Jesus as the main character isn’t an exercise in make believe; it makes us see things as they really are.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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